Archive for November, 2009

Monday, November 30th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
The Open-Ended Series

I’m running into a new challenge (I won’t call it a problem — not yet.  That’s another thing people don’t talk about in the writing biz — it never really gets easier.  You trade one set of challenges for another.  If you think selling your first novel and seeing it on the shelves is the end of the road, the ultimate prize, and everything after is sunshine and roses. . . um, not so much.)

I’m currently writing an open-ended series.  This is not something I had originally planned on doing.  As a reader, I have a bit of an aversion to series.  My usual pattern is to read the first book, and that’s it. I can even like the book and still not read the rest of the series.  Usually, it’s because I can see where it’s going, and I don’t foresee any surprises.  I can count the number of series that I’ve been inspired to read more than one or two books in on one hand, and there are only a couple that I’m an actual fan of.

So here I am, writing an open-ended series.  Not even a trilogy where the end is in sight.  No one is more surprised than I am.  I originally thought the Kitty series would be four, maybe five books tops.  But the series has been successful, and I keep getting ideas, so here I am, plotting the ninth book.  And here’s the challenge.

The series isn’t really open ended.  I’ve known since the third book how the series will end, because I think endings are important and I want to at least feel like I’m heading toward a goal, even if I don’t know how long the journey is going to be.  What this means is right now I’m in the “messy middle” portion of plotting the entire series.

You know the messy middle — that section in the middle of writing a book where everything feels like it’s in shambles and you have a ton of loose threads and no idea what you’re going to do with them, and you wonder if it’s ever going to come together?  I’m there, but with a body of work that could potentially be a million words long.  And I can’t go back and fix the first half if I decide to change something.  Yikes.  So what am I doing about it?

I know where I’ve been — I’ve written eight books so far.  I know where I’m going — I’ve got this image of what happens in the last book, and (like J.K. Rowling, who famously was said to have kept the last chapter of the last Harry Potter book in a lockbox) I know what the last scene is.  Now, I need to assess.  What can I do to draw lines between those two points?  What kind of things still need to happen to set up the ending I want?  What loose ends are hanging out there that I need to tie up?  What plot points can I use that I’ve already set up?  What characters should play a part in all this?

This is going to take a lot of brainstorming and list making.  I’m hoping that when I’m finished, I’ll have a bunch of plot ideas to fill the next couple of books.  The stories will raise the stakes, set the stage, and lead to the big finale that I have in mind.

And I’m very much hoping that when I’m finished, it will look like I had the whole thing planned out this way from the start!

Sunday, November 29th, 2009 by Sasha White
Sunday News

We’re sad to see Lynn Viehl leave. (you can read her Adieu post here) She’s one of the original Genreality authors, and a vital part of the group, but alas, she’s moving on. You can always find here on her own PBW blog, and she assures me she’ll be visiting us in the comments here often. We’re sad to see her go, but wish her the best in her new projects.


RITA winning Young Adult author Rosemary Clement Moore will be joining the group. She’ll be blogging on Fridays starting December 4th. I hope you’ll drop by and show her some support.


We’re taking a week of December 21 and 27 off to enjoy Christmas, so don’t be surprised if you drop by then and find no new posts. We will be back. :)

Saturday, November 28th, 2009 by Sasha White
The Devil is in the Details.

A while back I got an email from a blog reader asking this….What do you think new authors should watch out for/pay attention to in their first contracts?

We’ve had several posts here on the subject of contracts and rights and such, but I’ve compiled some answers and links for you for a quick reference.

The fantabulous Lynn Veihl has several things you should keep an eye out for.
“Retaining rights are a big concern, especially if you write gamer- or screen-friendly books. The author should reserve merchandising, performance (film, TV, etc.), graphic/illustrated edition and any other related rights. E-book royalties should have a renegotiation rider that allows the author’s agent to renegotiate the author’s cut if the industry standard rises substantially.

Publishers should carry the author as additional insured under their media insurance policy for any work published by them. This requires a separate agreement.

Short story or novella authors should look carefully at any anthology clause in a contract covering shorter-length works. Once you grant the publisher the right to anthologize the work, they can and will lump you together with any other writers they choose. If you’re an established author with a large readership and great numbers, you’ll probably get stuck as an antho headliner for two, three or more less experienced or rookie writers who are not writing at a level comparable to your own so the publisher can use your popularity to boost their numbers (which is why I don’t do multi-author anthologies.) ”

Carrie Vaughn also has some great things to watch out for…
” –Reversion clause. If the publisher doesn’t publish the book in a timely manner, you get the rights back, as well as keeping the advance. If the book goes out of print, you get the rights back.

Electronic rights. Make sure there’s a way to define when an e-book goes out of print (selling less than x copies a year, for example), or you may never get the rights back.

–Options and non-competition clauses. The publisher will try to make these as broad as possible. You want them as narrow as possible. If you write science fiction, they get first look at your next science fiction book, but not romance, fantasy, young adult, etc. Some publishers will try to put a clause in saying you can’t publish anything with other publishers–you want limits on this as well. If you’re writing a series, for example, they rightly want to be the only publisher putting out books in that series. But that’s all they should get.

–Joint accounting. This is really common and you may not be able to get out of it–this means you have to earn out all the advances on a multi-book contract before you start getting additional royalties, even if the first book has earned out.

–Keep as many rights as possible–foreign, audio, media, comic/graphic novel, etc.

–Niggling details: fair payout schedules, contributor copies, a chance to look at copyedits and galleys, etc. This should all be written in.”

Candace Havens keeps it short and to the point with this…:
“It seems simple, but keep as many rights as you can. It depends on the publishing company, but the author stands to make more money the more rights they hold. Also to make sure that their advances are not tied to any other books on their contracts. This, to me, is why it’s so important to have an agent who is looking out for our best interests. Also a first-time author may not really want that big advance up front. It sounds so great, unless you don’t make your sell-through numbers and then it’s hard to get that next contract. It’s happened to a couple of folks I know. If you take a smaller advance up front, you’ll still see money on the back end if the book does well.”

Agent Laura Bradford agrees that authors need to pay attention to the option clause. She says ” I think newbie authors should watch out for the option clause…some pubs have in their boilerplate that they want to see a full ms for the option instead of just a proposal, or that they will allow the option to be sent after the publication (instead of the acceptance) of the final book in the contract. That could hold someone up significantly.

Also: there is often a clause in the contract that restricts when you can deliver books to other publishers (some people think this language is only in the option, but it is a slightly different matter). This one can play havoc with anyone trying to shoot for doing multiple contracts. Usually it is possible to stipulate some limits or exclusions in this clause that will enable you to carry on with your intended publishing plan. “

In July Joe Nassise did a great post on Must Have Contract Clauses such as Out-of-Print/Termination clause. Grant of Rights, and Delivery and Acceptance.

Jenny Bent’s guest post HERE (PS: Jenny will be back on December 19th with another guest post for everyone, so keep an eye out for that one. )

I hope this posts helps sum it all up for everyone. I have to admit, Carrie’s point about the details of what constitutes out-of-print for electronic books is one I haven’t been paying attention to, but I will now. 😉

Friday, November 27th, 2009 by LViehl

One of the many things I’m not very good at is saying good-bye. “See you later” or “Take care” or even the occasional “It’s been fun” are more my speed – something a little more upbeat and promising than the usual farewell. It must be the series writer in me; after I build my story playground I never want to leave.

Beginnings are fun, but they’re a bit scary, too. Before I joined Genreality, I’d never been part of a group blog. I’d been kicked out of enough groups to know I probably wouldn’t last long, but two of my favorite online writer friends were involved in this project. I also really liked the concept: writers working in different genres getting together to talk about the work, the writing life and the biz.

So I jumped in here and began blogging with our first line-up: Alison Kent, Joe Nassisse, Jason Pinter, Carrie Vaughn and Sasha White. I didn’t worry about keeping up with the demands of my once-weekly post; I’ve been journaling online for nearly ten years now and I still haven’t run out of stuff to write. No, I worried about keeping up with these five very talented people and what they contributed to the group.

My first post was The Last Word, the sort of oddball goofy thing I write when I’m nervous. And I was, very. The quality of my blogmates’ posts pushed me to be a little more serious, so from there I went into series writing, the tale of my first sale, and my problems with bad luck (I even got all the Friday the 13th posts here at the blog). I behaved myself for the most part until April, when I kept a promise I’d made years ago and posted the first of my royalty tell-alls, The Reality of a Times Bestseller. When I didn’t get kicked out of the group for that post, I think I finally relaxed a little.

Working in a group of gifted writers makes you step up your own game, and I tried to do that. Now and then I had to recycle an old post from my author blog, and sometimes I fumbled a post (theme weeks always kicked my butt), but I was also able to talk about topics important to writers, like online endorsement disclosure, some very intense professional experiences, and things that make the writing life a little better.

Most weeks I spent quite a bit of time thinking about my posts for Genreality because I wanted to contribute something to the blog that was worthy of this group. Over time the line-up changed a little, but the quality has always remained the same. I think that quality and the commitment to it has changed me as well as the way I think of groups. I never thought I could be at my best in a group, but here I learned that when you find the right one, they bring out the best in you.

For that reason and many others, I wish I could remain a part of Genreality forever. But situations change, and I’m about to take some different directions with my work that are going to demand quite a lot out of me for the next couple of years. Starting in December I have some serious coordinating to do, and in 2010 I’m also going to try some experiments in writing, art and blogging to see what other kind of trouble I can get into. To have the time to attend to all that, I have to leave the group blog and head off on my own again.

It’s been a tremendous privilege to be included among such terrific writers, and I will not forget what I’ve learned from all of them. I’ll also be back to hang out in comments and annoy my blogpals whenever I can.

As for you all, I thank you for stopping in and commenting and contributing your ideas and opinions to my Friday posts. I will miss you, but I know I’m leaving you in excellent hands.

So . . . see you later. Take care. It’s been fun. :)

SUNSET © Alex Staroseltsev |

Thursday, November 26th, 2009 by Candace Havens
Happy Thanksgiving and…

I talked about characters last week, and wanted to continue with some thoughts. First of all, HAPPY THANKSGIVING! to my American friends. :) We have folks from all over the world who read the blog, and I don’t want to leave you out. So I hope you give thanks for all your many blessings too.

As for the characters… I have this terrible urge to go shopping on Black Friday. I don’t really want to buy anything, but I do want to watch the people. Sometimes the best way to give your characters quirks and ticks that bring them to life, is to do some hard core research.

That means people watching, and there’s no better place to do that than the mall or one of those superstores. Or even a truck stop. :)

I traveled last weekend to Oklahoma City to see my youngest son in his first opera. (The show was AMAZING.) On the way I stopped at a truck stop to use the facilities. As I was walking in a man and a woman were walking out. I assumed she was a waitress there since she had an apron on, and he cook since he wore one too along with a hairnet.

As they walked out I heard her say, “Well, I can’t do it Wednesday cuz I gotta go to court. If I don’t show up every Wednesday, I go to jail.” I’m not kidding. So of course my writer brain went crazy. The woman, had long black hair and a nice build. Her face was probably pretty once, but she had a hard life.

When I came back out they were on the side of the building smoking a cigarette and she looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

All the way to OKC I wandered what she’d done that she had to go to court every Wednesday? Was it a DUI? Something to do with her kids? Was she in anger management? What had put those lines on her face? And made her voice so sad?

I’m going to be honest with you. My first instinct when I see people like that, is to ask what happened to them. It comes from being a journalist for more than 20 years and knowing that everyone has a story.

That’s the thing about characters in fiction. Even the smallest character has a story. We don’t necessarily need all that information in the actual book, but that back story is what makes the character what she or he is today. Everyone has a story.

So as you go out shopping today, look to your left and to your right. Take a moment to notice the people around you. They may be the stars of your next book. Or at the very least entertain you for a few minutes.

If you need a good laugh, you can check out my new favorite entertainment Talk about some characters.

Do you have any funny stories about people you’ve seen, or conversations you’ve overheard in public? Tell me, I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 by Bob Mayer
Writers Rip off Publishers

I do twitter– as @IWhoDaresWins since my name was taken and now I’m kind of stuck with it.  I’m uncertain about social media and it’s effect.  I think as a writer you have to do it, because, well, doing nothing dooms you.  I find interesting links on Twitter every day.  A few days ago I was directed toward a blog by Michael Hyatt, who is CEO of Thomas Nelson.  That’s a Christian book publisher in Nashville.  In his blog he talked about agents being upset about Harlequin and Thomas Nelson opening vanity arms.  He actually asked: Why is their no uproar about authors ripping off publishers?  His point was since most new authors never earn out, publishers take a hit.  True.

I’ve heard this for years.  My answer would be that perhaps publishers need to stop blaming authors and take a look at their flawed business paradigm.  I once asked an editor where Random House put it’s publicity money and he said:  Our bestsellers.  It makes sense, but it also means publisher are throwing 100 books against the wall, hoping one or two stick.  I don’t know any other business run this way.  I sold over 1 million books for Random House and the sum total of their marketing campaign was one time they made up some hats with the title and gave them to distributors.  I figure they must have paid 100 bucks or so.  Efficient.  And they just rejected a new proposal from me saying that my numbers dropped as the Area 51 series went on.  True.  But my question is:  they printed less and less books, did less and distribution– and was that my fault?  I guess so, since in essence they fired me.

I think there are a lot of smart people trying to figure out the future of publishing.  The economy is in the tank and a lot of editors and publishing people have been fired.  So have a lot of authors.  We need to get smarter.  The first thing, though, might be if people like Michael Hyatt had a little more respect toward authors.  He is one too, after all.  He closed his blog to comments after people reacted to his comments.  He also deleted my response and has barred me from making any further comments.  This is interesting coming from a publisher, given, you know, a thing like freedom of speech.  It also indicates the close-mindedness of certain people.

I think a lot of people are very scared right now and they should be.  Things are changing quickly.  But it’s a good news, bad news thing.  We have to evolve.  I noticed on recent royalty statements a slight uptick in e-books sold, which is good.  POD and e-books are the future of publishing.  The days of mass printing and shipping are ultimately doomed.

The big question is who will be the ‘gatekeepers’ of the new face of publishing?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
Digital Rights and the Changing Landscape

With the rise of less expensive ebook readers and the growing interest in using mobile devices such as handhelds and cell phones to read digital content, the question of how an author should best handle their digital rights is becoming more complex.  Recent changes in how publishers are compensating us for this content has also made it more important for us to understand just what is being offered and by whom.

Back in October 2008, Random House sent out a letter to industry agents informing them of a change in policy regarding ebook royalty rates on all future contracts.  Previously, RH had paid 25% of the suggested retail price of the title.  The new policy was that they would be paying 25% of the amount received for all titles.

What, exactly, did this mean for writers?  Under the old policy, if a book retailed for $10.00, the author earned a royalty of $2.50 on every book sold, regardless of any discounting the publisher might do on the title.  Under the new policy, the writer would only receive 25% of what the publisher took in instead.  So if the book retailed for $10.00, but the publisher had to discount that 50% for the distributor, the author would only receive 25% of the 50% the publisher made, or somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.25.

That was a significant drop, any way you look at it.

Shortly thereafter, Simon & Schuster followed suit, adopting the same policy as Random House.  Thankfully, the vast majority of other publishers continued to offer what was at the time the standard 25% of list price royalty rate.

Now we have another bump in the road.  MacMillan, parent of such companies as St. Martin’s, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Henry Holt, Picador, and Tor among others, announced earlier this month that they would be making changes in their ebook royalty rates as well.

Here’s a direct quote from CEO John Sargent’s cover letter:

“It won’t surprise you that we have looked at the growth of development of digital delivery of the content from our books.  A number of the new contract’s provisions, specifically in the grant of rights and royalty sections of the contract, reflect our response to those developments.  Our starting premise is that digital rights in the content we publish in print book formats must be included in the basic grant of rights that we receive from authors.  In addition, as the methods for dissemination of content rapidly change and the distinctions between sales and licenses blur, we have determined that a single royalty rate, based on the amount received by the Publisher, should apply to all exploitation of the content of the book in digital form.”

That standard royalty rate Sargent is talking about?  Turns out it’s 20% of monies received.

Back to our example.  If that $10.00 book is published by one of MacMillan’s companies, that $2.50 royalty is now reduced to $1.00.

MacMillan is not the only one who is making moves like this on the changing digital landscape.  Recently Harlequin Enterprises announced the formation of a digital only publishing arm, Carina Press.  One of the big advantages that is being touted for working with Carina is their higher royalty rates.  In fact, their FAQ puts it this way:

The Carina Press contract does not include an advance or DRM, and authors are compensated with a higher royalty.

What’s that higher royalty rate, you ask?  30%.  Digging a little deeper uncovers that it is 30% of cover price, rather than net.

That’s good, right?  Much better than MacMillan or S&S?

Sure it is.  Until you discover that Carina insists on taking ALL RIGHTS, including print rights, despite the fact that they are a DIGITAL ONLY publishing house.  What are they going to do with those other rights?  Nothing, at the moment.  Will they do something in the future?  Who knows.  But I can tell you this – every author who accepts that deal is shooting themselves in the foot by giving away potentially lucrative rights for nothing in return.

Like the MacMillan changes above, that sucks.

So what’s my point with all this doom and gloom?  Simply this.  The market continues to change and authors need to be aware of how small changes in contract terms and language can have significant impact on their bottom line.  We’re going to see more changes in the near future, I’m sure, and it behooves us to start paying attention now, rather than later.

***Added by admin: Nadia Lee adds another interesting fact about Carina Press and their royalty structure in the comments. Be sure to read them. ***